Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Pastors Brian on baptism

From Toledo, IA
For the past year my family has been worshiping at Christ United Methodist Church here in Toledo. It's the church my wife and I were married in nearly 15 years ago, and it sits just a block away from our house. It's in our neighborhood and so that's where we've gone to church.

Christ UMC is shepherded by Pastor Brian Oliver. When I first showed up last year I approached him after worship and asked, "Need any help?" What pastor doesn't need help? So Pastor Brian and I have had a great time getting to know each other over the past year and we of course have had a lot of fun playing around with the fact that we're both named "Brian." It's been great to have another seminary-educated friend/colleague right here in town. To me, he's "Pastor-Brother Brian."

I've filled the pulpit a few times for him, but this past Sunday we did something new: We team-preached on the topic of baptism in our respective traditions, Methodist and Brethren (esp. the Anabaptist part). Here's the video...

Our approach was to focus on four aspects of baptism in our respective traditions. Here's a summary...

Meaning - We each talked about the scriptural link between circumcision and baptism as a mark of inclusion into the community of faith, the metaphor used by Paul of baptism being a dying/burial and mini-resurrection of sorts, as well as one connotation of the Greek word for baptism indicating a washing - and how all these meanings weave together in both Scripture and baptismal theology in various Christian traditions.

Method - This was fun because I got to explain why Brethren have the nickname "Dunkers": we go all the way in, all the way under, and three times to boot! Methodists largely inherited infant baptism from their Anglican roots, though the Wesleyan/holiness influence (with Pietism in the waters there) seems to have softened the insistence on infant baptism. If parents want to wait to have their child baptized, even to the age where Brethren typically get baptized, the UMC has no quarrel with that. The flexibility of when and how to be baptized in the UMC was a learning moment for me.
Misgivings about our own traditions - My own misgiving has to do with the decisional aspect of believer's baptism. An over-emphasis on the individual's decision runs the risk of downplaying the importance of the community's role in discerning readiness for baptism, and also giving ourselves too much credit for our rational decision-making powers. Pastor Brian sometimes gets uncomfortable with families he's never seen before coming to get their infants baptized "to make grandma happy," and then never seeing the family or the child again.
Mutual appreciation for the other's tradition - I appreciate the pedobaptist insistence on children being included in the family of faith, and how it adds the local Christian body's support to the family raising a child. Pastor Brian admired the full-immersion method as a powerful, full-bodied symbol/act of just how far we're called to go with Jesus: all the way under.

The experience of team-preaching with Pastor Brian at the three local UMC congregations was great. (Yes, we did this three times Sunday morning! Just like the number of times Dunkers dunk!) - We heard some good feedback from folks who enjoyed a much different preaching/teaching format than they were used it (and a longer sermon no less!).

My thanks to Pastor Brian for having this great idea and inviting me to share the pulpit to reflect on a foundational (and sometimes contentious) Christian practice...

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